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The mast of a sailing vessel is a tall, vertical, or near vertical, spar, or arrangement of spars, which supports the sails. Large ships have several masts, with the size and configuration depending on the style of ship. Nearly all sailing masts are guyed masts.

Until the mid-19th century, in the Western world, all vessels' masts were made of wood formed from a single piece of timber which typically consisted of the trunk of a conifer tree. From the 16th century, vessels were often built of a size requiring masts taller and thicker than could be made from single tree trunks. On these larger vessels, to achieve the required height, the masts were built from up to four sections (also called masts), known in order of rising height above the decks as the lower, top, topgallant and royal masts. Giving the lower sections sufficient thickness necessitated building them up from separate pieces of wood. Such a section was known as a made mast, as opposed to sections formed from single pieces of timber, which were known as pole masts.

In a three-masted, square-sail carrying ship, the masts, given their standard names in bow to stern (front to back) order, are:

Fore-mast: the first mast, or the mast fore of the main-mast.
Sections: Fore-mast lower—Fore topmast—Fore topgallant mast
Main-mast: the tallest mast, usually located near the center of the ship.
Sections: Main-mast lower—Main topmast—Main topgallant mast—royal mast (if fitted)
Mizzen-mast: the third mast, or the mast immediately aft of the main-mast. Typically shorter than the fore-mast.
Sections: Mizzen-mast lower—Mizzen topmast—Mizzen topgallant mast
Some names given to masts in ships carrying other types of rig (where the naming is less standardised) are:

Bonaventure mizzen: the fourth mast on larger sixteenth century galleons, typically lateen-rigged and shorter than the main mizzen.
Jigger-mast: typically, where it is the shortest, the aft-most mast on vessels with more than three masts.
Sections: Jigger-mast lower—Jigger topmast—Jigger topgallant mast
Most types of vessels with two masts would have a main-mast and a smaller mizzen-mast, although both brigs and two-masted schooners instead carry a fore-mast and main-mast. On a two-masted vessel with the mainmast forward and a much smaller second mast, such as a ketch, or particularly a yawl, the terms mizzen and jigger are synonymous.

Some two-masted schooners have masts of identical size, but the aftmost is still referred to as the main-mast, and normally has the larger course. Schooners have been built with up to seven masts in all, with several six-masted examples.

On square-rigged vessels, each mast carries several horizontal yards from which the individual sails are rigged

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Additional Photos by marion morgan (jester5) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 96 W: 66 N: 545] (1845)
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